Michael Tanner

As Congress nears approval on a series of 2011 appropriations bills (only three months late, a near-record for recent history), Rep. Sander Levin (D., Mich.) told Fox News that he was encouraged by progress on the bills because “we’re dealing with the lives of people. Those appropriation bills relate to the daily lives of people in middle class of America, and that’s really what this is all about.”

Yet, if that is true, and so many Americans have become dependent on the decisions of federal appropriators in Washington, there seems to be something distinctly wrong.

During the 2011 debate over raising the debt ceiling, President Obama noted that the U.S. federal government sends out 70 million checks every month. Unfortunately, that is probably an underestimate. According to the Washington Post, the president’s estimate included Social Security, veterans’ benefits, and spending on non-defense contractors and vendors. But he did not include reimbursements to Medicare providers and vendors, or electronic transfers to the 21 million households receiving food stamps. (Nor did he include most spending by the Defense Department, which has a payroll of 6.4 million active and retired employees and pays nearly 1 million invoices and 660,000 travel-expense claims per month.) The actual number of monthly federal checks might be closer to 200 million.

Government payouts now account for more than a third of all wages and salaries in the United States. Worse, if one includes government employees’ salaries, more than half of Americans receive a substantial portion of their income from the government. The government provides welfare to the poor, of course — 126 separate anti-poverty programs. But it also provides corporate welfare to the rich. The Cato Institute estimates that the federal government provides at least $92 billion in direct grants and subsidies to businesses each year. It even provides regular welfare to the rich. According to a new report from Sen. Tom Coburn, 2,362 millionaires received unemployment benefits in 2009.

Michael Tanner

Michael D. Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, heading research into a variety of domestic policies with particular emphasis on health care reform, welfare policy, and Social Security. His most recent white paper, "Bad Medicine: A Guide to the Real Costs and Consequences of the New Health Care Law," provides a detailed examination of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and what it means to taxpayers, workers, physicians, and patients.